Cultivation of grapevine in Croatian Istria and Kvarner Gulf area since antiquity is attested by an abundance of records and archaeological finds. The earliest records on renown of Croatian Istria wines may be tied to the fact that a geographical region in the Raša Bay near Rakalj is still known as Kalavojna, a name likely deriving from Greek for “good wine” – καλός (good) and οίνος (wine). It is also likely that the name of Kvarner town of Novi Vinodolski stems from Latin words Vallis (valley) and vineari (of wine). Evidence of wine drinking is abundant in the area – resting at the bottom of the sea in wrecks of merchant ships once trading in wine across the Mediterranean.
Istria offers unique environmental conditions for cultivation of grapevine. Istrian soils are classified in several groups. Red soils are prevalent in the west and in the south of the peninsula as the “Red Istria” is traced up flysch slopes before it transitions into the “Grey Istria” and ultimately to the “White Istria” soils in the northeast of the peninsula, in the mountainous area of Ćićarija. Its climate is as unique as the soil – as it changes from the coast to the interior of the peninsula. Following the coast to the south, riches of the Kvarner area are found on steep karst slopes reaching to the peaks of Učka, the Vinodol Valley and the islands of Krk, Susak, Rab, and Pag.
Malvasia is the most significant and the most widespread white grape variety in Istria. It is used in production of wines of diverse styles. Moderate to high-alcohol wines with balanced acidity and pronounced aroma intensity are prevalent. Among many varieties of Muscat, “Muškat Momjanski” produced from Muscat Blanc grapes grown in Momjan area is particularly notable and it has been awarded the protected designation of origin (PDO). Istria’s red wines have red to purple coloured hue range and pronounced fruity aromas. Teran variety is predominant. Borgonja (Blaufränkisch), Merlot, Muscat Rose, Croatina, Cabernet Sauvignon and Refosco are also cultivated. The Mediterranean climate and ocean breeze gift the Kvarner wines with freshness. They are markedly drinkable, with pronounced aromas characteristic of individual varieties. Likewise, the mild climate is favourable for production of rich, full-bodied, high-intensity wines with many layers. The range of varieties is the result of years of grapevine cultivation in this area. Many among them like Žlahtina (Chasselas), Gegić, Sušćan, Sušić, Maraština, and Plavina are deemed indigenous to this area. Bakarska Vodica sparkling wine is also famous. It is produced in the city of Bakar and its surroundings, largely using indigenous grape varieties grown in Bakar terraced vineyards.